Saturday, January 26, 2019

Offensive Grace Year C, Epiphany 3, Luke 4.14-21

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?"”
But the most amazing thing about grace is how offensive it actually is.
It was quite the homecoming.
Jesus had become a star.  Everyone was talking about him.  His words were remarkable.
And then, upon returning home to Nazareth, his neighbors, his family, those who knew him from the time of his youth, eagerly awaited to hear what he had to say.
Gracious words.
And yet it is always a two edged sword.
For every gracious word, there is a word of judgment.
There is no forgiveness apart from an acknowledgment of sin.
Grace is offensive.
And if grace doesn’t offend you, you probably don’t understand grace.
Next week's Gospel is a continuation of this week’s lesson and what we will find out is that one moment everyone in Jesus hometown spoke well of him and were amazed at the graciousness of his words – and then in the next moment they were ready to throw him off a cliff and kill him.
Grace does that.
Grace is good news, except it is also bad news.
When I declare to you that your sins are forgiven I’m making two powerful statements.
First, that you have sinned.  That’s a word of judgment, the bad news.
And secondly, that you have been forgiven, the good news.
But even in the grace of forgiveness, the offense remains.
Grace is offensive to those who have been wronged.
Grace is offensive to those who desire justice, and promote righteousness and the rule of law.
To illustrate this point, imagine if we had a president who decided to embrace the words of  Emma Lazareth’s Poem that is on the Statue of Liberty.
You know it.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Imagine if the Statue of Liberty was turned to face Latin America.
Imagine if that president offered citizenship to all who had come here illegally, forgiving their crime, granting them amnesty.
Imagine if that president welcomed those who continue to come, either out of economic necessity or fleeing persecution.
Good news to the poor.
Release to the captives.
Sight to the blind.
And freedom to the oppressed.
Gracious acts offered by a president to the thousands and thousands of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, legal and illegal, those who are here already, and those yet to come.
How would our nation respond to such gracious acts of a president?
Likely, the response would be the same as the response of the people in Nazareth to Jesus.
At first we’d be amazed at the graciousness.
And then we’d attempt to throw him or her over a cliff.
We’d want to throw him or her over a cliff, because we, like so many others, love justice and righteousness, and are offended by grace.
Granting amnesty is offensive to many in our land.

This is the thing though.  This is precisely the kind of grace Jesus came proclaiming.
Good news to the poor, is bad news for the rich.
Release to the captives, doesn’t sit well with the captors.
Freedom for the oppressed, means defeating the oppressors.
Grace is bad news for all who love justice and righteousness.
Because justice and righteousness demand that people get what they deserve, according to their merit.
But grace is the unmerited favor of God.  Unmerited.
Grace is grace precisely because it is not deserved.  Because there is nothing we can do to earn it.
And so if you love justice and righteousness, you will be offended by grace.
In the example of immigration, people who love law and order despise the possibility that we might offer amnesty to the illegals, and do so graciously.  They despise it.  Grace is that offensive.
Our human tendency is to be offended by grace shown to others.
It also resists grace shown to us.
And this is what I meant earlier when I said that “There is no forgiveness apart from an acknowledgment of sin.”
Imagine if I got up before you and declared to you that you are forgiven, specifically for your racist attitudes.
Or imagine if I forgave you for your idolatrous love of money and the security it offers.
The list could go on and on.
But the chances are you would bristle at the thought of being labeled a racist, even though I would contend that all of us are at least a little bit racist. 
Likewise with the love of money.  None of us likes to admit that money is as important to us as it is.  But the truth is we live in a materialistic society.  We just do.
But if I say that you are forgiven for these “sins” I am also saying that you have committed these sins.
And often we simply do not want to admit our own sinfulness, and so we can’t accept the grace of God’s forgiveness.
Jesus said:  "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Good news for the poor.
Release to the captives.
Sight to the blind.
Freedom for the oppressed.
Grace upon grace, regardless who it offends.
"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
God has chosen the Way of Grace.
God didn’t put it up for a vote.
And God could care less that it is offensive to us.

Do we want to follow this Jesus?
This Jesus who stood up before his friends and relatives in Nazareth and declared a Day Full of Grace, the year of the Lord’s favor, unmerited as it is?
Consider this.
Many people maintain that ours is a Christian country, and indeed, throughout the years the majority of our citizens have professed their faith in Christ Jesus.
Having said that though, remember that ours is actually NOT a Christian Nation, but rather a nation that guarantees the freedom of religion.  You can be whatever you choose to be.
Yet many of us continue to identify ourselves as a Christian nation.
What does that mean?
For many Christians, when they say ‘Christian Nation’ what they mean, what they desire, is that the nation be one where justice and righteousness prevail.  They lift up the Ten Commandments.
And yet the message of Jesus is not that we must become righteous and do justice, by our own efforts and actions.
Jesus proclaims the reign of grace.
If we truly want to be a Christian Nation it is grace, not a demand for righteousness, that must abound.
Likewise for us as individuals.
To follow Jesus does not mean that we judge our neighbor in righteousness, but rather that we love our neighbor as Christ has first loved us, which means, graciously.
Under the realm of grace, all are welcome, all are forgiven, and none are excluded.
Offensive as that is, that is the way of Jesus.
Which, by the way, is why they killed him.
I once heard it said that “All are welcome in the Church, but if any would desire to become leaders in the church, they must first conform their lives to a biblical lifestyle.”
Of course when a leader in the Church says that there is usually a bit of self-righteousness associated with it.
But this is the thing.
To follow Jesus is to live under his grace, and it is to recognize that all of us are dependent on the forgiveness that he grants.
None of us are righteous on our own.
Were it not for the Lord’s favor, we would all stand condemned.
I’m not a pastor because I am righteous of my own accord.
I’m a pastor because I have experienced God’s forgiveness, and can bear witness to that.
As Christians all of us are called “to bring good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And we proclaim this word of grace boldly, because we have first experienced such grace in our own lives.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Vintage Jesus Year C, Epiphany 2, John 2.1-11,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“Woman, my hour has not yet come.”
These were the words Jesus spoke to his mother Mary that day in Cana.
Mary responds to that by telling the servants to do whatever Jesus told them to do.  It was as though Mary was indirectly saying to Jesus, “Yes, your hour has come.  Do something.”
The miracle story concludes by saying “Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
Mary is mentioned in the Gospel of John in two places only.  This is the first.
The second place is at the foot of the cross:
“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”
As Jesus prayed with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion he said “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, .  .  .”
In this way, these events at the beginning of Jesus ministry point us to the cross, and the purpose of his ministry.  And just to help us see that, Mary is present on both occasions, pointing to the gift of her son.
John the Baptist introduces Jesus at his baptism with the words: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Then, at the end of the Gospel, Jesus is crucified at the very time the Passover Lambs are being sacrificed in the Temple.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son”.
Water turned to wine, and then at the cross from Jesus’ pierced side flowed water and blood.
Everything points to Jesus, his hour, and his glory, all of which is accomplished on the cross.
As he breathed his last, he simply says:  “It is finished.”

John differs from the other Gospels in many ways.  One of the most obvious is that Jesus never celebrates the Passover with his disciples in Jerusalem in John’s Gospel.  Instead, in the Gospel of John as Jesus gathers with his disciples on the night prior to his crucifixion he washes their feet and gives them the new commandment, that they love one another even as he first loved them.
But there is no “this is my body, this is my blood” in the Gospel of John.
Instead, throughout John’s presentation of the entirety of Jesus’ ministry is interwoven with Eucharistic images, and centers on the bread and the wine.
Following the feeding of the five thousand in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the bread of life:
I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
Here at the Wedding in Cana we have Jesus providing a prodigious amount of wine, 180 gallons worth.  Wine that is drawn from the jars set aside for the Jewish rite of purification.  The finest wine.
This is my body.  This is my blood.  Given.  Shed. That your sins might be forgiven.

 I have struggled with the wedding at Cana miracle.
To put it bluntly, in my experience booze at weddings has been more of a problem than a blessing.
In the prayer of the day in the marriage service there is the phrase “as you gladdened the wedding at Cana in Galilee by the presence of your Son, so bring your joy to this wedding by his presence now.”
This “gladdening” and bringing joy to a wedding, referring to a time when Jesus made water into wine always seemed like a strange prayer to offer at a wedding.
But even more strange, in my mind, was that the first miracle of Jesus would involve alcohol, and a lot of it.
Was Jesus’ purpose to provide the booze, and get people really drunk?
Well, of course not.  It’s not about the alcohol.
It’s about Jesus blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins.
There is an irony about this miracle.
Many an alcoholic has used the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine as a justification of their drinking. 
And not only alcoholics, but many others as well have seen this as an affirmation of alcoholic beverages in general.
Is that the sign Jesus offered and the revelation of his glory?
Well of course not, it’s not about the alcohol.
The irony is that people like me, who have struggled with our own failings as a result of alcoholism, need the forgiveness offered through Jesus body and blood, but have instead been encouraged to continue drinking because of Jesus using wine himself, and here, making a bunch of it.
Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sin.

The water turned to wine, points to the cross.
It also points to the marriage feast of the Lamb.
In Revelation John writes:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready;
8 to her it has been granted to be clothed
with fine linen, bright and pure"—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
9 And the angel said to me, "Write this:  Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are true words of God."
From Cana, to the cross, at the altar, and the marriage feast of the Lamb, wine points us to the Christ, and his saving work.
The marriage at Cana anticipates the marriage feast of the Lamb, where we will be joined together with Christ.
In the beginning, at creation, it is written that in marriage “the two become one flesh”.
In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in the 17th chapter of John he prays:
"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
This is a mystery.
As we share in Christ’s body and blood, we become one flesh with him.  That is the meaning of “communion”, literally, to ‘come’ into ‘union’.
These are images of marriage and of our being joined with Christ.
Upon tasting the water that had become wine, the steward said to the bridegroom:
"Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now."
And so it shall be.
The finest wine will be saved till the last when we drink of it anew in the Kingdom of Heaven.
And the wine that we drink, will be the cup of salvation that is prepared for us through the death and resurrection of Christ, his body and blood given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

“You are mine.” Year C, Baptism of Our Lord, Isaiah 43.1-7, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, .  .  .
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Listen to those words.
Words spoken to Israel. Words spoken to Jesus.  Words spoken to us.
These words express the very foundation of the Gospel.
Just imagine, or better yet, experience God whispering those words in your ear with tender compassion in his voice.
Just wow.
On Friday I did something that ended up being more difficult than I anticipated.
I was scrolling through the contact list in my phone, and came across the listing for both my mom and dad.
I thought to myself that it was time to delete those listings.  Dad’s been gone over a year now, mom a few years, and needless to say those phone numbers will no longer reach them.
And then a wave of grief came over me once again.  It seemed so final.
It brought up numerous memories.
One of the bittersweet memories that I have of my mom and dad is of their reticence, and unfortunately, their not saying what needed to be said.
I have called you by name, you are mine.
You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, .  .  .
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Deep within my soul, I wanted to hear these words spoken to me by my mom and dad.
Too often, there was simply silence.
Actually, mom and dad had a peculiarity about them in that they spoke of us, like this, but to others and rarely to our face.
I have two brothers and three sisters.
So often what we heard from our parents were words that lifted up and praised our siblings for all their accomplishments—but no such words for us.
They would tell everyone else how proud they were of each of us, but rarely speak those words to our face.
I’ve mused over the years that this tendency of theirs produced six of the most insecure overachievers you could imagine.  We heard mom and dad praise the others, and we tried diligently to earn their praise as well, not realizing that they bragged about us all, just not within our hearing.
One notable exception to this occurred at my younger brother’s wedding.
The wedding took place in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, just down the road from Penn State where my soon to be sister-in-law was a professor.  At the time my brother was a professor at Dartmouth.
We had the rehearsal dinner catered in a room at Penn State, and during it Dad got up to share a few words.
He talked of his humble beginnings on the farm in South Dakota, and how he was overwhelmed with pride now.  He was struck by the educational accomplishments of each of his children, and how natural it felt for us to gather at one of the most prestigious universities in the land.
A lawyer, a nurse, a psychologist, a pastor, a doctor, and my brother the mathematics professor.
It was a rare occasion that dad made the effort to communicate his pride in us, his children.
 I thank God that I heard those words then, and cherish them now.

I have called you by name, you are mine.
You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, .  .  .
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
When you hear these words from the Bible do you hear them as God’s word for you?
Or do you believe that they actually were intended for someone else?
Those words from Isaiah were spoken to the people of Israel when they were in exile in Babylon. 
And the words from the Gospel lesson were spoken to Jesus at his baptism.
That said, it is easy to hear those words as intended for another, and not for us.
Like children who hear their parent’s praise of their siblings, and not of themselves, we may find ourselves doubting that these words are actually intended for us.
But they are.
They are spoken to you, and to me.
God has been trying to get that message across to his people for years.  And we would not listen or believe that he was speaking to us.
We doubted.
We were overwhelmed with our own insecurity that we didn’t trust these words.
And so God came up with a plan.
He would touch us as he spoke those words to us.
He would splash water over our heads.
He would fill us with his body and blood.
How do you know God loves you and not just someone else?
Your head is wet, your stomach filled.

In 1989 I did a funeral.  A young fifteen year old girl had been in an auto accident, and I had baptized her in the emergency room at the request of her parents.
I spoke of the baptism during my funeral sermon.
After the service was over, I saw a member of my congregation, Linnea, in my office sobbing.
I sought to comfort her, and she shared what had troubled her.
Many years before, she had a child, Randall, who was born with some problems.  They kept Randall at the hospital.  About two weeks later, while she was at home for a break, Linnea got a call from the  hospital that Randall had died.
When Linnea told her pastor, his response was to say “What a shame and tragedy. We could have baptized him, but now it’s too late.  He won’t be saved.”
Her baby had just died and her pastor told her that because they hadn’t done the baptism Randall would spend eternity in hell.
The reason God gave us the sacraments is because he wanted us to hear and understand these words:
I have called you by name, you are mine.
You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, .  .  .
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
But we have to often taken those words of unconditional love and placed conditions on them.
If you’re not baptized these words are not for you.
If you’ve sinned these words are not for you.
We have failed to welcome, love, and serve all people, and so they struggle to understand that these words are for them.
We have told people like Linnea that their baby is going to hell because a baptism didn’t take place.
Baptism and communion are God’s way of reassuring us that indeed, these words are for us.
In no way should we ever use the sacraments to condemn others or ourselves.
Just hear these words:
I have called you by name, you are mine.
You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, .  .  .
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
One day we will stand before the Lord our God.
We will see him face to face.
What do you expect God to say?
Too often our fear is that God will confront us with our sins and we will stand before him condemned.
I’m becoming more convinced that we have spent too much time consumed by our sinfulness and afraid of our fate.
One of the reasons I struggled to understand how much my parents loved me, is because when I heard how much they loved my siblings I was also aware of my own failures.  I considered myself the black sheep of the family. 
Perhaps we’ve spent too much time speaking of sin, and not enough time speaking of God’s unconditional love.
I have called you by name, you are mine.
You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, .  .  .
“You are my Son, my Daughter, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Would that the heavens would open this day, and the Spirit descend upon each of us like a dove, and the Voice of God declare these words.
We need to hear them.
Day by day for the rest of our lives.
You can never say “I love you” too many times.
God has been saying it from all eternity and it hasn’t worn out yet.
I have called you by name, you are mine.
You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, .  .  .
“You are my Son, my Daughter, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Wisemen and the Wisdom of God, Epiphany Sunday, Ephesians 3.1-12

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.”
These two verses in Paul’s lesson to the Ephesians really spoke to me this week.
They are loaded.
Paul has a way of writing extremely complex sentences.
In that first sentence alone, Paul speaks about
1.       Being the least of all the saints;
2.       Grace;
3.       Gentiles;
4.       The boundless riches of Christ;
5.       The plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God;
6.       God creating all things;
Especially it was this phrase that struck me:
so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known.
And then, in the second sentence he stresses again, that “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Epiphany is about God revealing himself, and specifically Jesus, to the nations.
Traditionally, on Epiphany we remember the Wisemen, those sages from the east who traveled to Bethlehem to pay homage to Jesus.
“Since the seventh century in the Western Church, the Magi have been identified as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. A work called the Excerpta et Collectanea attributed to St. Bede (d. 735) wrote, "The magi were the ones who gave gifts to the Lord. The first is said to have been Melchior, an old man with white hair and a long beard... who offered gold to the Lord as to a king. The second, Caspar by name, young and beardless and ruddy complexioned... honored Him as God by his gift of incense, an oblation worthy of divinity. The third, black-skinned and heavily bearded, named Balthasar ... by his gift of myrrh testified to the Son of Man who was to die.”

The tradition of the Church also maintains that following the resurrection of Jesus, Thomas went on a missionary journey to India.  While on this journey he is said to have met up with the Wisemen in Persia, and baptized them.
Eventually their bodies, their relics, were brought back to Europe and are said to be interred in the Cathedral in Cologne Germany.
What the Wise men represent is that it was God’s plan to reveal Jesus, not just to the Jewish people, but to all nations, all peoples, all races.
Back to the Apostle Paul, and the phrase “so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known.
A rich variety.
The boundless riches of Christ.
And a God who created all things.
Let me start with the last, and work back to the first.
What can we know about God?
To begin to understand the nature of God, we look first to the creation which is the work of God’s hands.
And if we look to the world around us, the geography, the plants, the animals, not to mention the vastness of the universe, what we cannot help but be struck by is the rich variety and diversity that is part of creation.
“Science has identified some 2 million species of plants, animals and microbes on Earth, but scientists estimated there are millions more left to discover, and new species are constantly discovered and described. The most commonly discovered new species are typically insects, a type of animal with a high degree of biodiversity. Newly discovered mammal species are rare, but they do occur, typically in remote places that haven't been well studied previously.”
Think about that.  The creation is so diverse and rich with variety that even to this day, we have not identified every species of plant and animal that we share this planet with.
And even within the human family, billions of people have lived and died, and not one is identical to the other.  Even identical twins are not in fact identical. 
That rich diversity in Creation tells us a lot about God.
Secondly, we hear about the boundless riches of Christ.
Boundless means unlimited.  No borders or boundaries can limit the riches of Christ.
That’s one of the most important points of the visit of the Wisemen to the baby Jesus.  From Jesus birth onward, God sought to make clear that he loved the world, not just Jewish people.
Boundless also means that no one, not even one person, is beyond the grace of God.
This has been one of the hardest things for us to realize.  God can love all people, but we struggle.  If we are honest, there are some people so different from ourselves that we are incapable of loving them as we should.
God isn’t.
God created them.
God can love them.
And Jesus so loved them that he gave his life for them, just as he died for us.
Finally, let’s return to the phrase “so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known.
It’s not just that there is a rich variety in this world.
And it’s not just that God in Christ Jesus loves all people.
The wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known through the Church.
In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, in John 17 he prays “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
That we might be one, as God is one.
When we speak about Christian unity we often do so with the sense that we should be the same, and that our differences are the result of our failures, our sins.
That the Church is divided is the result of our sinfulness and our differences.
History tells the story of the many divisions that have taken place in the church.
The disciples were different.
The Church divided between the Orthodox in the East and the Roman Catholics in the west.
Following the Reformation, many different church bodies arose, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Baptist, and Pentecostal, to name a few.
In addition to being divided on theological grounds, nationality and race has divided us.
We don’t agree about how the church should operate.
We don’t agree about how the church should worship.
There are three things that we have all tended to believe:
First, that we are right.
Second, that they are wrong.
And finally, that these differences are the result of our failure to maintain the unity of the Church.
But in contrast to that we have these words of Paul, who by the way, had his own disagreements with Peter. . .
so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known.”
And not only that but this was the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God
And this was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Imagine that.
Imagine that the diversity that is present within the Christian community, and perhaps even within the larger faith community, is not the result of our sinfulness, but rather is the result of the rich variety of the wisdom of God and his grace that knows no bounds.
The church was created by God, for our sake, and as part of God’s creation it is as diverse as the people that are part of it.
The reason why we have Catholics, and Lutherans, and Baptists, and Pentecostals, and Methodists, and non-denominationalists and whatever other church body you might care to mention, is that apart from this rich variety the wisdom of God and God’s boundless mercy and grace simply cannot be known.
To put it more simply:  Jesus prayed that we might be one, not that we would be the same.
On a very personal level, what this means is that you need not be anything other than the self God created you to be.  
And so the Church is rich in its diversity. 
In this rich diversity we reflect not only the variety of people whose faith has brought them to the Church, but also the very nature of the Creator.
As Christians, the one thing that we have in common is our faith in Christ Jesus.
Apart from that we are richly diverse.  And that is a beautiful thing.
We lift our voices in praise of God,  yet we each sing a different melody.
This is all according to the wisdom of God and his eternal purpose and plan of salvation.